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We learn facts and events from without, but the highest idea come to us from within. The intuitions of substance, cause, law, justice, co-ordinate and arrange into symmetry and meaning the fast-flying events of the external world. The reason is fed from God inwardly with these ideas, and they are its. life.
I know good people who intellectually doubt the immortality of the soul, and an immedicable grief comes over them at the death of friends. But though they have no belief in immortality, they have an instinct of immortality which God gives them without their knowing it. For they work generously, earnestly for good purposes, buoyed up by an instinctive hope. Were it not for this, they would lose the spring of life. Unconsciously to themselves, they are strengthened inwardly by the spirit of God.
The Ethnic idea of inspiration is of an ecstasy, which overpowers the reason, and makes the inspired persons utter predictions the meaning of which they, themselves, do not understand. They are thrown into a trance, rapt into a frenzy ; the mind is confused by the paroxysm of the incoming God. Something of this confusion appeared also at first in Christianity, in what is called “the gift of tongues ;” but it was condemned by Paul, who, with his usual consummate good sense, said, “I had rather speak five words with my understanding, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." "I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also ;" for “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the proph"ets.” It is said of Jesus, and of him alone, that the spirit was given to him without measure,” and in all that is told of him we find no moment of blind ecstasy, no irrational enthusiasm, no vague raptures, no mystical sentimentalism, but such a luminous simplicity of statement that his
words are easily understood by common people. Calm, clear reason and good sense are the marks of Christian inspiration.
The divine influence, according to Christianity, is not only rational, but also practical. We have seen that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of “healing.” We also read of the “gifts” of “ helping,” of “governing,” of
discerning of spirits.” One man who believes in inspira tion, and looks up for it, will be filled with a divine power of helping those in difficulty, of showing them what they ought to do, of lending a hand to a weak brother or sister. Another man will, in answer to his inward prayer, be gifted with executive ability to direct and guide and govern. We know how some persons can govern without seeming to govern. Some are born leaders, but some are also inspired leaders. They are enabled by a power not their own to guide, repress, restrain, uplift, and bring together many hearts, till they beat as one. This is also a gift of the Holy Ghost.
And others are made discerners of spirits. The eye is made clear and penetrating to discern shams. The hypocrite and deceiver is unmasked in their presence. So Jesus “knew what was in man, and needed not that any
should testify of him." He saw clearly the weakness of Peter, and foretold his fall, but also saw that he would again be strong enough to strengthen his brethren. He saw into the dark mind of Judas; into the poor, unhappy soul of the woman of Samaria ; into the hesitations of Nicodemus, into the differences of character in Martha and Mary. This " discerning of spirits,” or knowledge of character, often comes from a deep religious experience. It is not merely a natural power, but also a gift of the Holy Spirit. I have known some very simple-minded people, who had been strengthened with all might inwardly by the power of
God, who were able to read characters as easily as though they were open books, by a divine sagacity “sharper then any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow ;” a sagacity which was "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,” and of that sort that there is not "
any creature not manifest in its sight.”
These various powers of the soul are all as much quickened and fed and vitalized by the Holy Spirit as that of the prophet, who speaks with the tongue of men and angels, or the rapt devotee, who wears the stones with his knees in constant prayer. It is one spirit by which all God's servants are baptized into that one body, the invisible church of good men and women.
Although this influence is supernatural, it is also natural. Our inward life, fed from a higher world, is unfolded into outward activity here, according to natural law. In all these operations of the Holy Spirit there is nothing unnatural, abnormal, or out of harmony with universal law. The divine life, flowing down through human souls into the world, must be, and is in harmony with the same divine life flowing down into the world through external nature. Consequently, wherever God sends a fuller tide of religious inspiration into any period, it is followed by a greater growth of art, science, knowledge and civilization. All the great civilizations of the world those of India, China, Persia, Egypt, Greece, those of Buddhism, Christendom, and Islam — have been precede 1 by a period of special religious inspiration. The prophet and seer prepare the way for the lawgiver, discoverer, man of science and man of art. And when the tide of inspiration recedes, the growth of civilization is usually arrested,
What we ought to believe therefore, is, that God is always inwardly near to us, in the depths of our soul, and always
ready to strengthen us, and lighten our darkness, when we turn inward to him. But it is a mistake to speak of any irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit. God respects our freedom, and, if we choose to resist these tender attractions and illuminations, they are never forced upon us. We can, if we choose, resist the spirit, and quench the spirit, and, to use still another wonderful phrase of the apostle, we can grieve the spirit. So, under the same calamity, one man will harden his heart, and refuse to be comforted, and remain bitter and rebellious; while another will let himself be led by the spirit into the sweetest submission and peace. This also is what Jesus meant when he repeatedly said to those who heard his words, but persisted in misunderstanding them, “They have shut their eyes and stopt their ears, and hardened their hearts, so that I cannot convert them, nor heal them."
We lock ourselves, by our own prejudices, into a chamber of the soul so dark that the light of truth cannot enter it. Sometimes men refuse to be divinely influenced, because they have made up their minds that all such influence is absurd and impossible. Light has come into the world, and they choose darkness rather than light — not always because their deeds are evil, but sometimes from the mere wilfulness of a system to which they have become slaves.
Let us,dear friends, be children of the light and of the day. Let us be willing to be led by the spirit of God, and to become sons of God. Let us not harden ourselves against the voice within, whether it comes to give us better insight into truth, or to show us how acceptably to work; whether it open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, our hands to act, our lips to speak, or our hearts to love.
“ WHEN PEOPLE ARE NEITHER ONE THING NOR THE OTHER.”
M subject today is Transition Periods.
Y subject to-day is Transition Periods. And I will
first read the little parable of Jesus about the children in the market-place, which we have given to us in Matthew xi. and Luke vii. In the latter place it stands thus:
“Whereunto, then, shall I liken the children of this generation ? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the market-place, and calling one to another, and saying: We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and you have not wept. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread, nor drinking wine ; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of Man is come eating and drinking ; and ye say : Behold, a gluttonous man and a wine bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of all her children.”
This little picture of children's plays, which Jesus gives us, is an illustration of the illogical objections made against the truth, and shows us many things.
It shows us how uniform are the tendencies of human nature in all ages and times. Jesus, passing through the market of Nazareth, or Cana, saw the children playing their games, just as children play them now. The little